Friday, March 30, 2007

All-Star Batman and Robin #3

Who knew the Irish had secret ninja powers?

For the previous installments, please check:

All-Star Batman and Robin #1


All-Star Batman and Robin #2

This time around I have the kick-ass Jim Lee cover. While it features the cheesecake costume of Black Canary, it’s really not that terrible a thing, since cheesecake on its own isn’t bad, especially not in this situation. We have the image of Black Canary with her body in a flying kick and an angry expression on her face. She’s active and she’s strong. Just looking at this image implies that Black Canary is not someone you want to screw around with. While I don’t have it to show you, those who are curious may look up Frank Miller’s alternate cover. What’s featured on that one? Black Canary slacking herself back, dragging a cigarette, and drawn like she was a $2 hooker found at the back of a bar. Once again, folks, in Frank Miller’s world, Men are from Mars, Women are from the whorehouse.

When we last left off, Dick Grayson had been convinced to join the fantabulous world of superheroes after BINO (Batman In Name Only) gave a soliloquy worthy of Shakespeare (if Shakespeare had been a murderous pedophile whose plays had been performed not before the Queen of England but the Queens bar and grill down the road). So, of course, one would think we’d be returning to that, right? Of course not, because now we are “Six Months Ago.” It’s a full-page shot of a fat, drunken loser walking out of a bar called the Black Canary and mumbling to himself in full, Frank Miller-styled repeating dialogue, “Who’s that little piece of sass think she is? Cuttin’ me off. Me.” Well, I’m sorry Senator Kennedy, not everyone reads the papers. “Who she think(sic) she is? I can hold my liquor. I can hold it.” I can hold it, too – the gun to my head, I mean. I’m going to play Russian Roulette before I get through this...

Another note on this scene is that Frank Miller’s prose, lovingly referred to on a message board I frequent as Idiotic Pentameter, is also in force in the narration boxes. It refers to the Black Canary bar as “something that came out of the back end of a horse.” That Frank just paints a picture, doesn’t he? Two figures emerge from off-panel, talking about the place. One says, “You’re not gonna(sic) believe this, Dipstick. You’re not gonna believe your eyes.” “It better be fine, Dorothy[?!]. She better be fine.” What you didn’t know of the Wizard of Oz book Dorothy and the Prostitute Village of Oz?

The narration box lets us know: “The only people with any reason to be out this late are hookers and cops -- and losers.” Well, you’d know all three of those, wouldn’t you, Frank? When the two ‘gentleman’ enter, we can tell what kind of place this is. Essentially, it’s a Hooters bar but with the waitresses wearing the Black Canary costume instead of tight t-shirts and short orange hot pants. And, of course, the dialogue shows that she’s getting hit on from all sides along with normal drink orders. Surprisingly, there are even a few women at the bar who seem to be getting drinks, but knowing Frank they’re probably hitting on Black Canary, too. ‘Humorously,’ as Frank continues to talk about the people who are out this late, he brings up Black Canary herself along with a cartoon image of a stick of dynamite: “This particular bartender’s fuse is getting shorter by the moment.”

Just as a side note considering the two losers who enter the bar continue to talk about Black Canary like a piece of meat, I have to wonder what exactly is the appeal of places like this or, for that matter, strip clubs in general. One is (usually) not allowed to directly touch the dancers/waitresses, cannot masturbate, and there is no expectation of sex, so they don’t even have a prostitution thing going. Sure, there’s the ‘they’re paying attention to you angle,’ but I know pornos that do that sort of thing and you can do that in the privacy of your own home and not around a bunch of lascivious, annoying other guys.

We get a full shot of who I can only presume is Dinah Lance concerning the Black Canary costume and she asks the two morons what their order is amidst all the flirtations of the other people at the bar. Oh, and just for maximum effect, we get to have a reflection of the mirror with the horny gazes of the men at the bar at Black Canary while she just looks off to the side. You see, boys, she’s here for your pleasure, just like that slut Vicki Vale. The narration doesn’t help: “...Maybe she’s having a bad night. Or maybe it’s something somebody said. Or maybe it’s something someone’s about to say.” Well, make up your mind! “Something in her gut is just aching to break out. Something unpleasant.” Oh no, she’s got a chestbuster alien! Run for your lives!

The two losers push aside other people at the bar and ask for some drinks and then, in some censored scribbles, ask Dinah to do something that I’m sure is sexual in nature. In a legitimately funny moment, Dinah responds with, “As for that other service you gents requested of me, I’ll leave it to you two boys to provide for each other.” Zing. Oh, and Black Canary’s Irish now, too. Honestly, what was the point of this sequence to the series? Oh, and I do compliment Frank on a little more subtle satire here in the fact that one of the two idiots looks like Oliver Queen, Dinah’s on-and-off boyfriend Green Arrow. Of course, this could actually be the awesomeness of Jim Lee at work. We may never know. The other moron reaches over and grabs Black Canary’s ass and, as such, you can pretty much figure out what happens next.

Yeah, the cartoon dynamite fuse runs out and Dinah does an aerial kick to both of the morons. I- wait, huh?! Okay, nothing of what we’ve seen so far of Black Canary indicates she has the training to pull off a move like that. In fact, the dialogue says she left Monaghan and her mother, brothers, and sisters to come here. There’s no trace of the normal Dinah Lance we know and love, the one who was trained by Wildcat and the Justice Society of America against her mother’s wishes to become the next Black Canary and fight crime. Do the Irish have hidden Irish ninja powers that they haven’t told anybody about?

Anyway, Dinah continues to go nuts as she attacks some random patron in the bar (and revealing she’s wearing high heels – because, you know, when you’re working on your feet for several hours, you should be wearing high heels) and performs another unbelievable move by doing a flip across the room and over several people and landing gracefully. And all throughout her Heroic Spaz Attack, Frank Miller subjects us to all the names Black Canary gets called on the job from the previous pages, only now in the narration boxes. And for some unknown reason, “Hot Momma” is used three times to start it off. Once more I have to compliment Jim Lee’s pencils since on the next page, we see Black Canary standing with her arms crossed – combining sexy and strong as she smiles at the bar patrons and announces, “It isn’t near closing time, gents.” She then kicks some random bystander and says, “We’re still open for business.

Dinah just keeps smashing away at the bar patrons, whether they made sexist comments or not, for another few pages before we return to Frank Miller’s horrific narration boxes. While it’s one thing for Black Canary to legitimately punch the guy who grabbed her rear, maybe even yell at or hit the people who objectified her with name-calling, she has gone completely whack-jacko by attacking everyone in the bar. But you know what the worst of it is? This: “It’s not that what set her off. It’s not the insults that these vermin pass off as flirtation. That’s not what set her off.” Oh, goodie, so she doesn’t even have a legitimate reason for her ass-kickery. “It’s a man. That’s what set her off. A single solitary man. A man who’s got her thinking all different. A man she’s never met. A man who’s stood up and said “enough.”” Because, you know, women can’t be inspired to action themselves; they need a man to do that for them.

The boss of the bar suddenly comes in because of the commotion and sees Black Canary stealing wallets off the unconscious patrons[!!]. Yes, not only is Black Canary a sex object who can only take action when inspired by men (even if that action is complete overkill), but she’s also a thief. Thanks, Frank. Dinah tenders her resignation and sees that the Oliver Queen look alike is even wearing a wedding ring. So, what does our heroic Black Canary do? She force-feeds him his own wedding ring. Folks, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – every scene in this series contains a Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot moment and here we have another. Words fail me at the sheer level of unheroic behavior all of the ‘heroes’ have exhibited here.

And what was it that got into Dinah’s head, anyway? What made her have her spaz attack and practically kill everyone in a bar? What man was it that inspired such behavior? “...Batman.. And that, my friends, was the sound of me hitting my head against the table. After calling her “sweet chunks,” our brave bar owner is tossed out a window by Black Canary. On a pizza box outside of the place, in what I’m sure is a message from the editor once again realizing just how stupid this is, are the words “Mai in ritardo,” which I’m told means “This is stupid” in Italian. If we’re wrong about this, please let us know and I’ll fix it, but otherwise I love the sentiment.

If the full-page shot of the bar owner getting tossed out a window wasn’t enough for us, we then get a full-page shot of Dinah stealing a motorcycle belonging to one of the bar patrons, which Frank helpfully tells us is “a roaring lion between her legs.” Ah, double entendres for the ‘liberated’ woman? Thanks, Frankie. You know, another theory thrown out on message boards I go to is that Frank actually knows just how crappy this stuff is. He’s so sick of writing Batman that if he writes such atrocious stuff, DC will stop asking him to do it. I’m not holding my breath, though. Well, actually I am because I want the pain to end, but...

Ah, and now our little segue into six months ago ends and we’re in the now. Oh, and that excursion lasted fourteen friggin’ pages! Over half the comic was devoted to a sequence that made no sense in the context of the greater story and depicted Black Canary as being just as psychotic and unheroic as BINO. This is supposed to be All-Star Batman and Robin, Frank! When we want All-Star Black Canary, we’ll call Gail Simone!

In any case, we finally return to the flying Batmobile (I’m still in shock over that one) where BINO’s ever-deranged narrative boxes give us a keen insight into the Darkknight Detective’s mind: “I’ve KIDNAPPED a traumatized YOUNGSTER and DRAFTED him into my HOLY WAR.” Holy Terror, Batman! Oh, wait, that’s another Frank Miller book that hasn’t been released yet. “I chose him with CARE. I did my HOMEWORK.” Well I hope you did, young man, because otherwise I’m not going to let you go play with your friends!

“DICK GRAYSON. AGE TWELVE. AERIALIST. The best I’ve ever SEEN.” There was a guy he knew who was better, but he was only the best he HEARD. And in the most shocking bit of Mary Sue-ism since Youngblood’s Vogue, here’s Dick Grayson, Age Twelve’s biography: “Top of his CLASS in just about every SCHOOL his roving circus life TOOK him to. Made BLACK BELT a few weeks before he turned NINE[!!!].” Seriously, I’m starting to think BINO is the one who orchestrated Dick’s parents’ murder just so he could kidnap this kid. The Batmobile starts plummeting down and Dick Grayson, Age Twelve naturally responds to this with alarm. Aw, what happened to “I’ll be brave,” kid?

To further break me away from my sense of reality, the Batmobile falls into water and converts into a submarine[!!]. Dick Grayson, Age Twelve jokes, “You still haven’t told me what a “ward” is.” BINO promptly tells him to shut up, but Dick asks him what he calls the vehicle. BINO grins and we get this colorful dialogue:

“The Batmobile.
Dick Grayson, Age Twelve rolls his eyes and says, “That is totally queer.”
BINO scowls, downtrodden since that the twelve year-old isn’t impressed with his stellar naming skills, and promptly tells Dick to shut up again.

But enough of that scene! Let’s switch over to Metropolis, fifteen hours ago and- hey, wait a second! On a carton of milk is a ‘Missing’ photo with Dick Grayson’s picture on it. At no point does it mention Batman, but we see that it’s Clark Kent holding the carton and he summarily crushes it! WOW, he must be Superman if he has the strength to crush liquid encased in cardboard! But anyway, my shock isn’t that, but the fact that this is fifteen hours ago. Think for a minute – that would’ve meant that Clark bought a carton of milk sometime between the time of the early morning and a few days prior during grocery shopping that featured Dick Grayson’s picture on it even though BINO only kidnapped him roughly an hour ago. And for the milk to have gotten to the grocery store to begin with would’ve taken a few days, which means the printing of that picture took place before then and- AAAARRRGH! The non-logic is killing my puny human brain! I need some milk!

A copy of the Daily Planet is pushed under Clark’s door for some reason, which has the words “Bat-Napped” written across the headline and Clark, having a heroic spaz attack of his own but no one to do Irish ninja kicks on, simply uses his heat vision, shattering his glasses and burning the newspaper. And the logic centers of my brain once again go nuts, since if this was “fifteen hours ago,” that means that BINO and Dick Grayson, Age Twelve, have been driving for fifteen hours since Dick’s kidnapping would’ve taken some time for them to write an article about it that took up so much of the front page! Seriously, I can’t even begin to think how this is supposed to make sense unless the criminals that were responsible for this had so much pull in both Gotham and Metropolis as to manipulate policemen, newspapers, and milk companies to report about a kidnapping that had occurred before it ever happened (especially odd since they had planned on killing Dick for some unknown reason). The only other explanation is that BINO and Dick have been driving around for hours, which would explain why Dick went from, “I’ll be Brave” to “That is totally queer,” but it makes my feeble brain even more confused.

Okay, let’s move on with the story and- what the hell?! After a last panel of Clark proclaiming “Damn!" (Jim Lee is wasted on this tripe), we flip the page only to discover the Superman symbol and the words “To Be Continued...” written across the bottom! WHAT IS EVEN THE HELL?! Fourteen pages of Black Canary, two pages of Clark Kent, and only FOUR PAGES OF BINO?! Admittedly, this means less of the bizarre creature that calls itself Batman, but still, did Frank even understand what it was he was supposed to be writing?!

That’s it, I’m going to go see if I can create heat vision and burn this crap.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

All-Star Batman and Robin #2

Suddenly Joel Schumacher's Batman seems subdued and well-executed.

Well, I’ve already given an introduction on both the subject of the All-Star series and of Frank Miller, so instead I direct you to the first review to catch you up on everything you’ve missed.

All caught up? Good.

This time, besides for the awesome Jim Lee cover depicting Batman standing over a distraught Dick Grayson, an alternate cover was made available by Frank Miller himself. Confusingly, it features Dick Grayson as Robin with Batman’s shadow over him while a blood splatter is spread across the comic page. Symbolic of the violent struggle of adolescence being forced to grow up in a harsh and violent world or just a really lame cover? You decide.

When last we left off, Batman had picked up a frightened young Dick Grayson by the collar, only a scant hour or so from his parents having been shot in front of him, and announced to him that he had been drafted into a war. We open the book on a confusing angle of the Batmobile driving up a REALLY big hill (or a mountain, neither of which I knew were near Gotham) and overlooking the city below. Frank’s schizophrenic writing is in full force here as he begins: “From up HERE, Gotham City is beautiful.” Awww, well, now isn’t that just nice and- “Beautiful. Like EDGAR ALLEN POE’S sweet LENORE,” Okay, that’s kind of weird, but- “before her small COUGH brought a spot of BLOOD to her lip and the poet KNEW she was PLAGUED. DOOMED.” All right, now he’s just freaking me out here.

“I’ve just KIDNAPPED a traumatized youngster. Strong boy. For his age, he’s damned strong.” And then I see the muffled “Mmfff” word balloon coming from the Batmobile window and suddenly my theory of Bruce Wayne: Agent of NAMBLA from the previous review takes on a horrifying new reality. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go jab out my eyes and get brainwashed so I can get the horrible thoughts out of my head. “As good and pure a superhero as you can find,” eh, Frank?

On the next page, he continues his stream of consciousness writing as we see a rather confusing image of Batman’s glove over half of Dick’s face while air jets within his glove [??] expel some sort of gas from them (I suppose this is meant to be some sort of calming agent, but then why is he covering his mouth and nose?): “Dick Grayson. AERIALIST. Twelve years old. Brave boy. Damn strong. Not that he’s got a PRAYER of ESCAPING my GRIP -- but he’s STRONG.” Is he strong? Listen, bud – he’s got radioactive blood! “Very promising. He just might do. He just might.”

Meanwhile, Alfred’s trying to fix up Vicki Vale. For those of you that remember, the previous issue of ASBAR ended with Batman going completely off his rocker and smashing a cop car in half with the Batmobile. It seems in the aftermath of Batman’s murderous rampage, Vicki crashed Bruce’s car and banged herself up rather severely. Vicki’s still in bad shape, but she tells Alfred that she remembers “every goddamned thing. Every goddamned moment.” And every goddamned line makes me wish I could forget every goddamned thing. Every goddamned moment. “I remember the kid. Dick Grayson. Age twelve.” If you were confused about why I started to always refer to him as Dick Grayson, Age Twelve, your answer’s right there – henceforth, any time a character refers to Dick, they always have to mention his age. It makes me wonder why “Dick Grayson, Age Twelve” didn’t become as popular a phrase as the oncoming “Goddamned Batman.”

Once again Alfred refers to Vicki as “love” even though he’s only known her for like one night and tells her to stop moving or she’ll bleed all over herself. Well, actually, he says it twice because even Alfred isn’t immune to the disease that’s making everyone repeat themselves, but that’s not important. I mean, it makes sense for Vicki to do it because she’s in shock, but what’s Alfred’s excuse? Vicki exposits for those who were smart enough not to buy the first issue: “I saw it all. Dick Grayson. Age twelve. He was brilliant. Brilliant... Somebody murdered his parents. Right before his eyes. Brutally. Brutally. It was brutal.” So, was it brutal? The narration captions explain to us who this is: “Vicki Vale. Columnist. Bearing witness.” Lewis Lovhaug. Reviewer. Bearing the pain of this comic.

Vicki continues to explain how Dick was taken by the cops like they had something to hide (and once again reminding me how if the cops had been responsible for the murder, they had less common sense than the Watergate burglars) and then Batman showed up and kidnapped him. Oh, and it was brutal, apparently. As Vicki wonders why Batman would kidnap Dick Grayson, she thankfully falls unconscious and we get what I can only presume to be an homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 as Alfred holds a limp Vicki Vale.

Back to Batman, where he explains about his world: “My world. Welcome to MY world, Dick Grayson. BATS and RATS and WARTS[??] and all. You poor boy. You poor little bastard. Welcome to HELL. Hell. Or the next best thing.” Jeez, can you imagine anyone narrating their own life like this? ‘I entered the dentist’s office. It was cold. Cold. COLD. Cold like the night my parents got their heads blown in. It’s full of CAVITIES and GINGIVITIS and SHARP, POINTY THINGS. But this is MY world. And my-’ Okay, that’s enough. I can’t keep writing that without bursting into laughter; I don’t know how Frank Miller does it. Anyway, Batman explains that the gas was supposed to knock Dick unconscious (well, maybe you shouldn’t have put your hand over his mouth and nose then, moron!) and instructs him to sleep: “The world I’m gonna(sic) wake you up to will be no better than the world you already know.” Well, he could’ve still had a fun, prosperous life if the circus had adopted him, but you kind of screwed over that after you kidnapped him, you jerk. Actually, I think he was planning on doing this even if his parents hadn’t been killed – he did say that he had an eye on him.

Dick realizes that Batman’s not speaking with his own voice, but a fake one: “It’s like he’s doing some lameass(sic) CLINT EASTWOOD impersonation.” Not being a Clint Eastwood fan, I was unaware that he routinely kidnapped young boys for his war on crime. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Frank. The worst part of all of this is that he keeps talking about putting Dick through hell and he’s smiling about it. Forgive my squirrelly ignorance, but didn’t Batman swear that he’d make sure that no one had to go through the same kind of crap he had to go through when his parents died?

On the next page, the moment of truth – the moment everyone remembers this comic for. Dick Grayson asks, “Who the hell are you, anyway, giving out orders like this?” To whit Batman, the man who can breathe in space, the man who could take out Galactus if he had a week to plan, and the man who will never quit as long as he can still draw breath responds, “What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn Batman.Ding-ding-ding! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a catchphrase!

Dick Grayson, age twelve, is unimpressed with the goddamned Batman as he slowly comes to realize that his parents were killed a few short hours ago: “My parents were MURDERED. Somebody BLEW their BRAINS out.” And as if Frank Miller realized that he was giving Dick Grayson, age twelve, too many lines and not enough goddamned Batman, Dick also thinks: “(No. Don’t go there. Not now.)” Yeah, Frank, save the angsting for a comic that doesn’t suck. Batman grumbles that the kid isn’t getting scared no matter what he does. Umm... Bats? You just kidnapped him, shoved him in a car, and yelled at him about how you’re going to make him your “ward” and were grinning about it. I think the kid’s crapping his pants right now but just doesn’t want you to know about it.

All of a sudden, police cars and motorcycle cops appear and start chasing down the Batmobile. Dick tries to get Batman to pull over, but he realizes that they aren’t interested in arresting him anymore. “I guess somebody on the FORCE put out a KILL ORDER on me. Cool. It’s about damn TIME.” AGH. How many things are wrong with those sentences?! First of all, Batman doesn’t say ‘cool.’ Ever. He doesn’t have to – he’s so cool he doesn’t need to acknowledge coolness anywhere else (besides the point that he’s too friggin’ serious for it). Next, he’s never going to be happy that the police are chasing him down – he wants to have a good relationship with the Gotham PD so they don’t get in his way when he’s trying to take down criminals. And finally, Frank Miller has stated that this book takes place in the same universe as his Year One and Dark Knight Returns stories – except during Year One, he didn’t have Robin with him and by the end of it, he was actively working with Gordon. As such, how in the hell did his relationship with the police get so sour after that? Oh, I’m sorry, I must be dense or retarded. I forgot that this comic makes no sense. Never mind, let’s continue.

Batman goes completely batshit then, swerving around and driving towards all the cops while he laughs in maniacal glee. Dick Grayson, age twelve, is panicking of course as the “pure, good hero” Batman just smashes into cop cars. Once again we finally get a moment where the Torgo-syndrome actually makes sense, with Dick repeating phrases in his head because he’s sitting next to a murderous psychotic who talks to his car and is laughing as he causes wanton destruction and no doubt kills a couple law enforcement personnel. To make the scene even more unbelievable, the Batmobile suddenly converts into a plane. No, I’m not kidding here. Seriously, I’m only two issues in and almost every scene has a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Suddenly I long for the stupid, clich├ęd double entendres and nonsensical physics of a Joel Schumacher Batman. Even the ice skates inexplicably coming out of the boots of Batman and Robin make more sense than this stuff.

Dick Grayson echoes my own sentiments as he cracks, unable to take the grief and pressure any longer and cries about his dead parents. And the Batman that Frank Miller wrote, the guy who caught Carrie Kelly in the air and told her she was a “good soldier,” promptly slaps Dick Grayson. The next three pages are all twelve-panels each and manage to fit a surprising amount of dialogue in them (albeit most of it is just them repeating themselves over and over) and I’ll try to recap them as best as I can, otherwise this is going to be even shorter than the last ASBAR review.

Batman scolds himself as he realizes he’s being completely insane with Dick: “What I DOING to this kid? Who the hell do I think I AM?” You’re the goddamned- ah, screw it, you know where that was going. “I’m torturing this boy. TORTURING him.” So, wait, are you torturing him? “It’s a TERRIBLE thing to do. But it’s the only WAY. It’s the only WAY. If I don’t keep the PRESSURE up, he’ll find time to GRIEVE. I can’t let him GRIEVE. GRIEF is the ENEMY.” I thought crime was the enemy? Seriously, grief over his parents is what kept Batman going – his anger about the horrible way his parents died. This is even stupider when one considers that one does not need anger to fight crime, not even Batman. In the pages of 52, Batman found solace and acceptance over his parents’ death by removing all the anger from the Batman persona, but he still had the drive and need to fight crime. And why not? While it may seem crazy to put on a costume and go beat up criminals, the drive to do justice doesn’t require a dark, tragic past. Hell, just look at Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, or Stephanie Brown – dark crap happened to them during their lives as superheroes, but it wasn’t tragedy that drove them into becoming superheroes in the first place. They all grieved at some point in their lives and yet they’re all still driven to do justice.

“Oh, HELL. Just LOOK at him.” Look at that adorable little face; Awwwww... “STOP it. No DOUBTS. Remember the MISSION. NOTHING MATTERS -- except the MISSION. HE doesn’t matter. YOU don’t matter. NOTHING MATTERS -- except the MISSION.” Honestly, is he speaking in haikus now or something? Of course he matters! Seriously, Frank must’ve been researching Batman during his ‘dark loner’ periods when channeling this Batman character. In fact, this guy is so much NOT like Batman, I’m not going to refer to him as Batman anymore. He is Batman In Name Only. BINO.

Dick Grayson, age twelve, wonders about the policemen: “Those were cops, down there. Back there. They were cops. What’s with that?” BINO tells him he’s got a lot to learn about fighting crime and Dick totally OWNS BINO by pointing out that Cops fight crime and BINO totally wasted a bunch of cops back there. As if Frank suddenly realized that nothing so far has made us want to empathize with BINO whatsoever, Dick speculates in his thoughts that ‘Batman’ is so lonely in his world and that when he doesn’t talk, it’s so quiet in the Batmobile. “We listen to ourselves BREATHE for what feels like a DAY.” Yeah? Well, I’ve been reading this for what feels like DAYS.

More Sin City-inspired lines ensue: “He SUCKS air and for a SECOND it looks like he’s got a RAZOR BLADE stuck between his TEETH--” Umm... ew? “--then he TALKS and it sounds like every WORD he SAYS is a jagged chunk of GLASS that SCRAPES his THROAT on its way OUT.” And if ever there was a reason why you shouldn’t be smoking, kids... Anyway, BINO talks about cops in Gotham: “Never talk to cops. Not in Gotham. Never let a cop get near you. Not in Gotham.” Jeez, he really needs to get over that incident with the cat. Dick Grayson, age twelve, acknowledges what he’s saying and BINO says that, “There’s only one cop worth a damn in Gotham City and he’s nowhere near this case.” What’s this? A reference to Jim Gordon in this fiasco? And here I was hoping he didn’t exist anymore in Frank’s confused little mind, because there’s no way in hell Gordon would ever agree with anything BINO has been doing here.

BINO talks about how he knows Dick has seen cops in other cities across the world and that most of them are decent, but Gotham City isn’t like those places and that’s why most cities don’t need him. BINO, there’s no place in the world that needs you. They need Batman, not the crazed lunatic who’s using his name. Bruce says that Gotham might need Dick, too: “Be brave, Dick Grayson. Be brave.” I don’t know, dealing with you this whole time has shown that the kid’s rather brave so far.

Dick thinks to himself about how BINO wants him to join his “nutso CRUSADE of his” and that fighting crime is a “Good way to get myself KILLED. And I wouldn’t have any CATCHERS this time.” I’m sorry, what’s a Catcher? “Nobody to CATCH me.” Okay, thanks, I was confused by that word. Wait a second, come to think of it, at no point during the first issue did either of his parents catch him. In fact, when Dick did fall, he pulled a grappling hook out of his armpit and caught himself, so why in the heck is he so broken up about the catching thing? Anyway, Dick speculates in his head and asks his parents what to do and we get a shot of his eye getting angry as he asks why they died and who killed them. Well, BINO might know considering he caught the loser and pumped him full of snake poison, but somehow I doubt he’ll mention that to Dick. Dick gets a determined look on his face and the last line of dialogue is, “Yes, sir. I’ll be brave.”

Thus Issue 2 ends with an angled-off Robin ‘R’ symbol and the words “To Be Continued...” across the bottom. I’m not sure how I should feel about this last page. On one hand, this page could’ve been utilized earlier for honest character development for Vicki Vale or even poking in on the criminals behind this nonsense. On the other hand, Frank would’ve probably screwed that up somehow, too, so it’s probably good that we didn’t get more of his insanity.

Sorry about this one being so short, folks, but honestly, while a lot of this comic is dialogue, most of it repeats itself in one manner or another and there’s very little actual content (besides for BINO screaming his head off about how awesome he is or murdering people). So, then, I must ask again: More ASBAR or move on to something else already? I mean, don’t you want to read more about such a pure and good hero like Batman? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m confusing Dark Knight Returns with this trash. Here’s an easy guide to know the difference:

Frank, what the hell happened to you?

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Friday, March 16, 2007

All-Star Batman and Robin #1

All-Star Goddamn Batman and Dick Grayson, Age Twelve

Oh, Frank.

Frank, Frank, Frank.

Frank, what the hell happened to you? You had a successful run on Daredevil that revitalized it, created a fan-loved character (which sadly led to a crappy movie version of that character), and once upon a time you could draw without everything being so blocky and stylized. And then you made The Dark Knight Returns, one of the most quintessential Batman stories of all time. You paved the way for comics to be recognized as a serious medium and championed creators’ rights.

And then you made Sin City and it all went downhill from there.

Oh, sure, Sin City is a fantastic take on noir-styles in comics and some of the stories are even entertaining, but it set a precedent for you that you haven’t gotten away from since. All of your artwork since Sin City has followed that same blocky, noir style even when it’s in color. Sin City established the idea that you couldn’t write a female character who wasn’t a whore. You’ve spent so much time working on Sin City that it’s become your standard mode of writing, with choppy, brief sentences that have become a parody in themselves of the grim ‘n gritty era, which you yourself derided as “stupid.” In 1985, you said that “Batman is as good and pure a superhero as you can find.” Well, twenty years later, you seem to have forgotten that. The Batman in this book is unheroic, psychotic, and in some parts seems pedophilic, even.

The All-Star books were meant to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Ultimate universe – new series depicting superheroes starting their careers in a modern setting without decades of continuity to discourage new readers. A new comic reader can start fresh without having to worry about extensive back-story and situations that they may have never heard of. And considering Frank Miller’s more-hits-than-misses track record with Batman, it seemed like a natural fit for him to write this series, right?

The Sin City style is in full force in this series, with sexist portrayals of women, dialogue that seems schizophrenic at times or just repeats itself for no discernable reason, and plot points that sometimes feel like they were lifted directly from Sin City. The only saving grace on the book is Jim Lee’s gorgeous pencils. The book has been rocked with delays since day one. Since the book premiered in 2005, at the time of this writing, only four issues of the series have been released, but considering the content I can actually see that as a blessing.

There are actually two covers available for it (albeit promotional materials combined the two images into one) of the same Gotham City background while one cover features Batman and the other Robin. As I said above, Jim Lee does fantastic work (I’m particularly fond of his work on “Hush”), though I’m confused about why they felt the need to split the two characters so that they both had the cover devoted to them. I’d think it would make more sense actually to, as a buying incentive, have it be more like a two-part cover that could be combined into one, but hey, what do I know?

We start the action off with a young Dick Grayson performing a mid-air leap. The first thing one notices about this is that Dick is wearing a rather unusual green outfit with a stylized golden “G” on his chest (and making me think for a brief moment if Dr. Wertham wasn’t onto something in Seduction of the Innocent given the contents to come). I am a little curious about why the change in the outfit. It’s possible I’m wrong, but I always thought that the Robin outfit was an homage to the outfit Dick wore when he was in the circus. If that was the case, then why the green outfit, especially since the Robin costume only has green in the pixie boots, short pants, and gloves (none of which are in this outfit). Dick states in our ever-helpful narration boxes: “This should get me KILLED. But it WON’T. Not that I can BREATHE with my HEART fighting it out with my ADAM’S APPLE, just now--” And suddenly I have the image of the Star Trek fight music playing as a twelve year-old heart and an Adam’s apple duke it out in a wrestling match.

Dick goes on to talk about how much he loves his parents and how they’ll always catch him and in the last panel, it shows Dick with his arms spread wide, a happy smile on his face, and a narration box saying, “I fly.” I actually have to admit, this opening sequence does work really well, unusual costume aside. However, the writing problem of Frank Miller rears its ugly head right here as Dick has apparently contracted Torgo syndrome: “They’re always there for me. They always catch me. Mom and Dad. They always catch me. They’re always there for me. They’re always there for me.” So, they’re never there for you, then?

Flip the page and now we have moved fully into Frank’s fantasy world of how women are supposed to be. It’s a full-page shot of the Millerverse Vicki Vale. She’s strutting around a large apartment (with huge, uncurtained windows behind her) in pink underwear and holding a martini. The narrator boxes give us this helpful insight into her character: “Vicki Vale. Columnist. Gadfly. Dictating. She’s trouble. The kind of trouble you want.” Yes, boys, she’s only there for your pleasure. And what is Ms. Vale dictating? “So we got ourselves a Man of Steel in Metropolis – And why do we call him a Man of Steel? That does bring certain thoughts to mind.” What magazine does she work for, anyway? Superhero Innuendo Monthly? ‘In this issue - Diehard and the reason we want him fighting crime for us.

As an aside, when people often cry sexism in comics because of skimpy outfits or skinny bodies, a common reaction is for people to cry out, ‘But men have it bad, too! Men wear skintight outfits that show off muscular bodies that we can’t hope to compare to!’ They don’t really get the problem. It’s not that the outfits are skimpy. It’s impractical, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that women are drawn that way purely for the titillation of the male reader. There is no friggin’ reason for Vicki Vale to be sauntering around her apartment in her underwear. No reason.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh on Frank, I mean it’s not like he’s having Vicki Vale’s ass talk to us or anything and- oh, never mind. Flip the page, last panel: Vicki Vale’s buttocks, the focus of the shot, conversing with us. And while I could go on a lengthy diatribe on just that section, I leave it in more capable hands here.

As for the text itself, Vicki continues talking about how Superman is so much better than Batman because of his mightier penis. “So Metropolis gets a Man of Steel. And what do we get in dear Gotham City? A damn flying rodent. Who doesn’t even fly.” So, wait, does he fly or doesn’t he? “A goddamn Bat Man.” Anyone who’s been hanging around the comics community for the past two years will know what that line foreshadows. Slutty Vale continues: “This loser throws a few other losers through a window and we’re supposed to swoon?” Well, you’d know losers, Vick. “Sometimes I despair, dear reader. Sometimes life seems to hold no meaning. They get a Man of Steel. We get a flying rat. What’s a poor girl to do?” Perhaps she could realize she doesn’t need men to validate her own existence and- ah, you get it.

Vicki goes on to pull a Jim Carrey as she speaks through her rear about how much Bruce Wayne is hot (oh, irony, hahahaha!). She’s interrupted by her buzzer and suddenly she starts complaining about how loud the buzzer when really we know she’s just upset that someone got in the way of her almost masturbatory thoughts about men she’d like to sleep with. As it turns out, it’s Alfred, who says that Bruce Wayne is requesting her presence. And like Pavlov’s dogs, Vicki scurries at the sound of a bell at the prospect of being with her man. In a two-page spread, we see Vicki trying on a variety of perfectly reasonable outfits, albeit now she’s also changed her lingerie to black (since she’s a slut and all). Throughout it, she says no less than four times: “I’m having a date with BRUCE WAYNE.” She settles in a cleavage-exposing white outfit that Emma Frost would blush at.

Alfred is our next victim of mischaracterization as Vicki comes down to meet the car and Alfred actually refers to her as “love.” Alfred informs her that they’ll be attending the circus and Vicki could care less since, as shown above, she only cares about the fact that: “I’m having a date with BRUCE WAYNE. How cool is THAT?” I don’t know how cool it is. I mean, I don’t even know who it is you’re having a date with. What’s his name?

Cut back to the circus and Dick is performing a complex maneuver. And what are his thoughts on the matter? “They’re always there for me. They always catch me. I fly.” GAH! We’re nine pages in and besides for Vicki’s penis monologue I think we’ve had a grand total of four sentences in this story which are repeated ad nauseum. Dick fails to grab the next swing bar and starts to fall, prompting audience members to start saying “My God!” Yes, every single one of the speech balloons that are reactions to this either are just or start off with “My God” and I started to wonder if there was a Monolith somewhere that I wasn’t seeing on the page. I will say happily that one of the balloons says, “My God this is horrible” and making me think the editor had slipped it in to give their own commentary on the issue.

Vicki is of course naturally worried about the child who is plummeting to his death, but Bruce reassures her that the kid knows what he’s doing. Dick suddenly grabs a grappling hook and rope from his armpit[!], tosses it up to the swing bar[!!], and manages to stop his free fall[!!!]. As I’ve said before, I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that suddenly stopping yourself while dropping like that is probably not good for the muscular structure. Furthermore, other than to show off that the kid already has talents that will come in handy when he becomes Robin, why isn’t there a safety net for the trapeze? In other comics I know it was said that they had removed it since this was supposed to be a complex, death-defying stunt to impress the audience, but no dialogue here indicates that’s the case here. And while it’s certainly cool that Dick can accomplish such a move, wouldn’t a net be safer than storing a grappling hook in your armpit flesh? I mean it’s got to be uncomfortable.

Back to Vicki and Bruce, where Vicki comments that Dick’s amazing and in a very creepy moment, Bruce replies: “Yeah, I’ve had my eye on him for awhile. He’s something, all right.” Vicki, for once acting like the woman she’s supposed to be based on, questions him on that comment. However, she quickly succumbs back to the Vicki Vale of Earth-Miller when Bruce smiles at her and replies, “I’ve got an eye for talent.” Bruce Wayne: Agent of NAMBLA. Vicki realizes something’s up, but she’s too gaga for Brucie to make the connection: “I’m having a DATE with BRUCE WAYNE.” I’m sorry, I really can’t follow this plotline, is she on a date or something?

The Flying Graysons take a bow, but then suddenly bullets strike Dick’s parents and kills them. What I don’t understand is the necessity to change this little detail of Dick’s origin story. Originally, Mob boss Tony Zucco was trying to extort money out of the circus and they refused to budge, so Tony put acid on the trapeze ropes, killing both of them. This would only leave circumstantial evidence pointing him to the crime. Instead, we now have a shooter who struck down the parents for reasons a new reader doesn’t know and is a major lapse in logic for the criminals, since anyone who brought a gun to the circus and then had to take aim to kill them as well as they did would’ve been spotted almost immediately committing the deed. In any case, Bruce looks in shock at his dead parents as Bruce’s thought captions fill us in:

“He doesn’t understand. He can’t possibly understand. I couldn’t, when it happened to me. And I don’t know why this was done to him. I can’t know why. Not yet. But I know exactly THIS MUCH: The boy has entered MY WORLD. And he’ll never leave it.” Well, you’ve heard it, folks: if your parents are murdered, you are now officially a part of Batman’s world. But it’s okay, they know you there.

Bruce slips off from a shocked Vicki Vale as he too falls prey to Torgo syndrome and repeats in his narration captions: “There’s no way out.” Apparently making us believe that Bruce can find a hidden spot to change amidst the chaos of a heavily-packed circus tent, Frank has Batman suddenly appear and instantly find the shooter as he flees the scene. He tosses a batarang into the guy and apparently he even put snake poison on the edge of it [!!]. Batman identifies him as a minor thug. “Yeah. Caught myself a six-and-a-half-foot-long MINNOW. There’s a lot of FOOD CHAIN to work my way up. But first -- the KID. Dick Grayson. Age Twelve.” No, don’t interrogate him, you dick!

Meanwhile, Vicki’s trying to get the cops to get Dick Grayson, Age twelve to a hospital, but the cops are strangely adamant about it. They say he’s in good hands, but Vicki states: “Yeah, I’ve seen what you cops do with your hands. What girl in Gotham hasn’t? And who knows what you do to little boys?” Um, Vicki? He’s a dirty cop, you really can’t shame him. Furthermore, if Vicki’s accusation is true, why in the hell is she writing a stupid gossip column about who’s got the world’s finest crotch when she could be printing the truth about Gotham’s cops? The cop hits Vicki across the face and she spits blood out of her mouth. “Gotham’s FINEST. It wouldn’t be LADYLIKE to say finest at WHAT.” Considering her behavior in the previous pages, I’m not sure what her definition of “ladylike” is, exactly...

Actually acting like a competent individual for a moment, she commandeers Bruce’s car and Alfred comes along for the ride. She pursues the cop car, assuming that the cops are planning on beating up Dick and that she can get photographic proof of the cops assaulting a defenseless minor, thus having a felony crime that would get Washington’s attention. Dick argues with the cops about how his parents were murdered, but the cops tell him he’s remembering it wrong. He even tells them that “I saw the man who did it. And I can identify him.” And again, I have to shake my head in disbelief since the cops wouldn’t have had to rough up Dick if they had just cut the ropes instead of shooting them in the middle of a crowded circus tent! Furthermore, how the hell could Dick see who it was that did it?! When his parents were shot, he was taking a bow with his eyes closed and only looked up when he heard the bullets being fired and hitting his parents in their heads. There were hundreds if not thousands in that tent – how in the heck could he have seen who did it after just glancing up?!

Vicki Vale thinks to herself: “I don’t get it. Why KILL two AERIALISTS – then use the COPS to do LORD knows what to their BOY? It doesn’t make any SENSE. It doesn’t make any SENSE.” Vicki, I know it doesn’t. Vicki, I know it doesn’t. A swarm of bats suddenly flies down into the gulch where the cops have brought Dick. Batman tells us: “I knew these cops would take the boy to the GULCH. So I set up my SONICS. Bats like my SONICS.” Personally, I like Knuckles, but I haven’t played in awhile so- oh, what? Oh, well, I much prefer thinking about SEGA games than I do about this...

The bats attack the cops, who subsequently decide to flee. Batman stops the sonics and- Oh my lord... He drives the Batmobile through the cop car and splits it in half! I am just... Wow. I don’t think even Diehard’s mega-crotch produced as much of a ‘what is even the hell’ reaction from me as this just did. The physics of it are baffling. The ethical implications are mind-numbing. The sheer mischaracterization in it has got me wishing I had the safe, reliable days of Youngblood. I will admit, upon looking at the special edition of this issue and the original script that Frank Miller had written, he only writes that the Batmobile (the cool version from the 1950s) should smash through the cop car and utterly demolish it. I’m just trying to wrap my head around how Jim Lee went from “utterly demolish” to “slice the car in two.”

Batman picks up Dick Grayson, Age twelve by the collar and tells him, “On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. Into a war.” Thanks for the clarification, Batman, because I thought he was getting drafted into the NFL! And thus our first issue ends. And somewhere, Bob Kane is crying.

All right, so I want to hear some opinions – should I move on to #2 of this dreck or hold it off for another occasion? Tell me or else I’m going to launch a battering ram through your car that’ll inexplicably split it in half.
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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Uncanny X-Men #423

I have to say, the people who paid 25 cents for this comic were profoundly ripped off.

This review’s going to be a little different than other reviews and perhaps a little more difficult to pull off. See, it’s easy to make fun of #1 issues since they’re intended to indoctrinate the reader (be they old or new) into the new individual story arc that’s occurring within the book. But when you have a series that’s been going for 400+ issues, one would have to assume that there has been some sort of consistent quality that’s allowed it to last 35 years. Some could say that it’s just tradition, wanting to keep the book alive out of faith for the characters, but if that’s the case, they wouldn’t have started an entire new book for the Avengers after a 500+ issue run. I admit there’s an economic factor to that since #1 issues sell better than a book that’s on its 423rd issue. However, if you are picking up a book that has creative teams frequently leaving the book after a storyline or after a few story arcs, you want to make the stories consistently good so that new readers to the series won’t have any problem wanting to pick it up again.

Of course, the problem with this is that there are naturally going to be stinkers in a book and this one’s no different. Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men caused a bit of controversy due to accusations of Mary Sue characters, retcons to established characters, poor characterization, and ridiculous plot points. I admit, I’m not familiar with a lot of Austen’s work, mostly because I don’t pick up much of his work, be it WorldWatch or Action Comics. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s unfair of me to think this comic sucks.

In preparation for setting up this site, I asked several message boards for recommendations for bad comics to review and Uncanny X-Men #424 was given as a candidate. I perused my local store’s back-issues for it, but sadly could not find it. However, since the story in question was a two-parter, I did manage to get my hands on #423. Eventually, I do plan on getting #424 because of what I’ve heard about it. I’m almost deadly-determined to do it for one specific reason that was cited for the contempt of it: disintegration communion wafers. Intrigued? So am I.

Before we begin, a minor rant – what is it with the propensity for some comics to include adjectives into their title? Amazing, Uncanny, Astonishing, Sensational, Irredeemable... shouldn’t just being a mainstream superhero or team be enough to justify its worth? Why do we need to feel that the book is special by having this description? Of course, this comic is special, just not in the way they wanted.

The cover makes no sense. It’s a token shot of Wolverine coming out at the camera all badass-like and all with broken chains behind him. However, while Wolverine is in the issue, at no point is he chained up (or is there even chains featured, for that matter). And a note on the artwork: his outfit is apparently so tight that we can see every sinew of muscle on his body, even in places I didn’t realize there were smaller muscles. Oh, and when did Wolvie pick up the anchored goatee? It just makes him look like a thinly-disguised villain and certainly not one of the most popular characters in comics. Also surprisingly, this comic is priced at 25 cents, possibly an indicator of how much faith Marvel editorial had in the issue. Joking aside, I’m not sure for what reason it was given a 25-cent price except as a possible promotion, but I’d think that Marvel would want to promote better material than this.

The first page is a recap of recent events and I have to say it’s refreshing to see that Marvel wants to let new readers be caught up on recent events, but they throw four paragraphs worth of material that could have been explained away in one sentence: teenagers have really complicated and crappy soap opera-like lives. Just to give a quick sum-up: Havok is out of a coma and in love with a nurse named Annie, but he accepted a marriage proposal from Polaris (which makes me happy to see a woman proposing to a man, but why the hell did he accept a marriage proposal from her if he didn’t love her?!), Nightcrawler recently stepped down as leader of the X-Men and encountered a “mysterious organization” known as the Church of Humanity, and a mutant named Chamber returned to the X-Men to find his girlfriend Husk now involved with Archangel. “But all these trying times at the Xavier mansion are only a small hint of the horrors to come...” Oh no, it’s a plague of carjackings!

We open the actual story with a montage of various scenes across the world, including a group of silhouetted soldiers along three crosses, a battle of Christian soldiers versus an unknown foe (which I can only presume to be part of the Crusades), a group of unidentified black people (some of whom seem rather overweight) wearing islander wear and holding books [??] while the background shows mountains and palm trees, a concentration camp, and an unidentified scene of a mass, open grave with several dead individuals within it while soldiers approach it, an unknown flag (featuring red and white stripes and some sort of grey shield on it) implanted next to the grave. And on their own, these could have been somber scenes (except for the odd scene of the islanders holding books. What the hell was that about?), but the narration captions ruin it all, right from the start:

“More people have died in the name of religion than have ever died of cancer. And we try to cure cancer.” Okay, how many stupid things can I count about just those lines? First of all, while it’s certainly true that religious fanaticism in one form or another is responsible for deaths spanning millennia, trying to compare it the amount of cancer deaths is just plain ridiculous. I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of cancer, but the reason fewer people have died of cancer is partly because cancer is a disease that’s caused usually by factors outside of the control of individuals and because we have treatments for cancer, it’s more likely that people will live through it. There isn’t really a surgical procedure at the moment for ‘being blown into several million pieces by a suicide bomber’ or ‘getting stabbed in the face during the Crusades.’ Furthermore, trying to compare premeditated murder with a horrible disease and making it sound like religious fanaticism is worse than cancer is just horribly insensitive. “Gee, Billy, I’m sorry you have a tumor, but at least you weren’t made an example of by the whacko religious fanatics!”

On top of that, “And we try to cure cancer” is the height of terrible writing. Is the guy advocating that we try to cure religious extremism? Forgive my squirrelly ignorance, but again it’s trying to say that a disease and a murderous belief system are somehow on an even keel. But anyway, we haven’t even got to the actual story yet, so let’s continue: “What is it about our specific belief in God and his wishes that makes us so angry at the specific beliefs in another?” Um... It isn’t belief in God that does it; it’s believing that God doesn’t like other people’s beliefs that does it. Get your facts straight. Some of us believe in God and don’t have a problem with other people’s beliefs (unless those beliefs are the ones that say you should kill people for your beliefs, but I digress).

“What makes us take up arms against those who pray to the same God with different words -- and make “Holy War” against them?” And again, he’s making a general assumption. I can assure you that the general beliefs of Christians tend to not match the general beliefs of Muslims nor do they match the general beliefs of Hindi, Buddhists, Shintoists, and etc. Saying that they’re “the same God with different words” is unbelievably offensive to those who hold their beliefs and ignorant of all the tenets and differences among the world’s religion. Anywho, we switch to a two-page spread featuring a group of X-Men at their school looking in shock as they see several members of their team quite literally crucified on their front lawn. The one closest to them has a sign on him that says, “Evolution is not the will of God.” I could also point out that it’s not his will to nail people up on crosses, but I’m sure I’ll understanding things with the ‘ironic’ quote from Deuteronomy that’s featured on the bottom talking about only the one true God and all.

Oh, and the crucifixions themselves? The artist screwed up big time. Each X-Man that’s nailed up has the spikes being driven through his palm and his feet and they’re hanging limply from the crosses. This is quite impossible. The weight of the body can’t be supported just from the palms – it’d rip the hands clean through. The only way this would work is if they had some sort of stool or something for their feet to stand on, otherwise the Romans would traditionally either tie the hands around the cross by the wrist or simply stab the nails through the wrists. Or maybe these X-Men have ‘super-weight-reduction’ as part of their mutations.

On the next page, the narrator (now revealed to be Nightcrawler) gives a breakdown of the members of the team. First is Jean Grey, who by now must have Frequent Flier Miles with as many times as she’s died. She announces that she’s not picking up any thoughts or heartbeats, declaring them all dead. Next is Logan, whom Nightcrawler says is, “Often called Wolverine because he’s short, tough, and has these hundred-inch claws that shoot out of each hand.” Just like a real Wolverine! Wolverine yells at the group to get them down as we’re introduced to Chamber and Husk. Chamber, according to Nightcrawler, is “A walking ad for how mutant gifts can ruin a good jawline.” I think I saw a public service announcement like that once.

As for Husk, he’d “explain her mutant power, but it disturbs me too much.” This from a guy who once appeared on a painted cover of a comic butt-naked in front of Wolverine without any intended comedy about the situation. For those wondering, Husk’s ability is to shed her skin into a different element, which really isn’t that disturbing compared to the guy with energy coming out of his mouth or the telepath with a cosmic bird for a soul. To make a long story short (too late), Cyclops concurs with Wolverine to get them down and Iceman objects, thinking the police will want to see it. In turn, Cyclops has what we call an ‘heroic spaz attack’ around here, once again yelling to take them down. By the by, the X-Men tend to go through a lot of uniforms and right now they’re wearing their worst – matching blue and yellow ensembles and Cyclops in particular has it worst with a huge-ass ‘X’ across his torso.

Cyclops tells Jean to contact the new nurse, Annie, and she complies, sending a telepathic call to her: “Annie? Annie, it’s me, Jean. I need -- Annie, please stop screaming, it’s just telepathy, it’s not going to hurt -- well, when you pull yourself together, can you join us in front of the school?” You know, if this is how they treat a regular human who’s rightfully panicking when she’s hearing a voice in her head communicating with her, I’ve got to say I understand why Homo sapiens are afraid of these guys.

Nightcrawler makes the comment that the police are going to be unhappy that they’re tampering with a crime scene and Wolverine just rolls his eyes at this and proclaims that, “When it comes to mutants -- we are the police.” I certainly agree with Wolverine on this one, but it makes me scratch my head as to why Nightcrawler is so adamant about such a thing, since we know that the X-Men have more advanced technology available to them than local law enforcement. The others see that Jubilee has also been crucified and Wolverine runs to her. Iceman, in this stunning bit of revelation, says these words: “Right here, Logan. My God, it is her!” No kidding, Einstein – that yellow raincoat can be spotted a mile away. Wolverine and Iceman pull her down while Wolverine screams for help: “Where’s a healer?!” We need to travel into an Instance! “Where’s Xorn?! Where’s Worthington?! Where the hell is Worthington?!

All of a sudden, Nightcrawler has his own heroic spaz attack, looking up at the sky and screaming, “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?Beep! This is God – your call is very important to us... “Or cry to you “violence!” And you will not save?” While some people have crises of faith like this, Nightcrawler just two seconds ago didn’t seem too put off that a bunch of his friends were nailed to a bunch of crosses, caring more about upsetting the possible police investigation.

Jean telekinetically carries two bodies back into the school as Nurse Annie asks who could do such a horrible thing to them. Iceman responds that it was by people who don’t like mutants, saying her name sanctimoniously to make her feel bad about her own prejudices. Nightcrawler’s narration pipes in with: “Annie the human. Annie the “enemy.”” Erm, maybe I haven’t read any X-Men books in a while, but I was under the impression that Professor Xavier thought that humans and mutants weren’t supposed to be enemies? Once again being a flip-flopper, Nightcrawler on the next page says in narration, “Don’t go there, Bobby” and then spouts off what I can only presume is a Bible quote since he says it with quotation marks in his narration captions.

In the next scene, Angel is lying in the middle of the medical bay with wires hooked up to him and all of the dead X-Men. With the time I’m sure it took them to set up this little display, I’m sure the bodies of all of them must have started to decay (at least the brain would due to lack of oxygen) so I don’t know what they’re hoping to accomplish with their little transfusion of Angel’s ‘healing blood.’ Wolverine, still screaming, asks how long it’s going to take. Angel tells him to calm down and reassures Husk that he’ll be fine. “You go worry about Jubilee and Angelo.” And, you know, the four or five other dead friends of yours, too, perhaps?

Cyclops pulls Nightcrawler aside, starting to give him instructions about assembling his squad when Nightcrawler interrupts, saying it’s not just his team anymore. Cyclops states that: “It is your team, Kurt. You wanted more responsibility and Xavier gave you the second squad. Whether you choose to follow up on the responsibility given to you is your business -- but you are the team leader.” So, wait, he’s the team leader, but he doesn’t have to follow up on the responsibility of it if he doesn’t want to and yet you’re barking out orders to him? Is anyone following this logic? Nightcrawler states that he split his leadership responsibility with Angel (and in case you haven’t noticed, blue boy, Angel’s not exactly in a position to be giving orders at the moment). Cyclops interrupts him by saying that he “found it easier to be liked if you didn’t have to make the unpopular decisions. So you left those to Warren in order to continue being everyone’s happy-go-lucky best friend.”

He continues by giving a lecture on leadership: “Being a leader isn’t about being a friend, or being liked.” Well, I guess that explains why everyone thinks Cyclops is a stuck-up asshole – he is. “It’s about making the right decisions no matter how tough they are -- or how unpopular they make you. So get your team to the conference room -- and do it now.” Okay, I do actually agree with Cyclops on his description of leadership, but seriously, is now the best time to be giving lectures? Just take charge yourself, Cyclops – you’re still the overall field leader and you don’t want a conflict in the chain-of-command from Nightcrawler if he disagrees with you about something, do you? Jeez, he really is a dick.

Annie warns Angel that they’re getting close to a pint of Angel’s blood and he tells her to keep going. Husk tries to convince him to stop and Nightcrawler asks her to accompany him to meet with Cyclops and the others. Husk refuses, but Angel tells her to go with Nightcrawler, saying, “You’re really wasting your time here, anyway.” On its face, this may seem heartless, but seriously, it’s true – I mean, what’s Husk going to do to be helpful? Wilt away next to Angel while staring at him, perhaps? Husk and Nightcrawler react with shocked looks on their faces to this perfectly legitimate statement and walk off. Annie scolds Angel for his statement, defending Husk and saying that she suspects that she likes him a lot. Angel responds that he knows, but that she loves Chamber. Annie, reacting with a wonderful beside manner, responds, “What? The kid without a mouth? Please! There’s nothing to kiss!” Wow, such a sensitive nurse, isn’t she? “If you knew anything about women, handsome, you’d know there’s nothing more important than a man who can kiss.” Yes, because his personality has nothing to do with what a woman likes in a guy. Honestly, where did this woman get her nursing license, from the Gary Brodsky School for Women?

Switching scenes over to “The War Room,” we once again find Nightcrawler reciting Bible lines. I’m not including them here because these few lines of good writing weren’t written by the comic’s author. Cyclops wants to know who’s responsible for the attack and that he wants “hints, clues, rumors, psychic impressions, whatever you’ve got -- and then we’re going to find these monsters!” Um... Cyclops? You see all that technology around you? How about you punch up some camera footage or something that might have shown who the people were who did it? Havok brings up the idea that with the crosses and religious symbols, it’s likely that it was the Church of Humanity that attacked them. Cyclops doesn’t know what he’s talking about and Nightcrawler explains that they’re “a bunch of clowns who think mutantkind is against God. Our team has faced them a few times in differing circumstances.”

Cyclops quickly asks several questions at once: “How many times? What’s their background? Where are they located and why weren’t we briefed on them?” Nightcrawler starts to answer and as soon as he brings up how he assumed Angel had briefed him, Cyclops goes nuts, yelling at him: “Dammit(sic), Kurt, are you brain-dead?! Did you or did you not ask Xavier for more responsibility at this school?!” Is this really the best time to be giving Nightcrawler a lecture about the finer points of command? Some of your teammates may have just died and it was due to a terrorist attack; worry about that kind of crap after you’ve captured the killers! But no, Cyclops rants about how it’s Nightcrawler’s responsibility to keep the other teams apprised of potential threats, “Especially if your team has failed to effectively deal with them.” Gee, Cyclops, you’re right. Say, how’s the Hellfire Club these days? Or Apocalypse? Or Mister Sinister? Or- well, you get the idea.

The others concur with my opinion of Cyclops being a dick, telling him he should calm down and we do get this humorous exchange of dialogue between Havok and Cyclops, mostly because Havok is so right:

“With all due respect, Alex, this doesn’t concern you.”
“With all due respect, Scottie -- this is no time to be a tightwad.”

Meanwhile, back in the medical bay, Angel is getting light-headed from all the blood being drained from him (or maybe it’s just his confusion about why Wolverine’s still in the room when he told Husk she was wasting her time). Annie tells Angel that there’s no change in the conditions of the others and Wolverine confirms this, sadly ordering Annie to cut off the feed. Angel objects, trying to get them to hold off a little longer. “Warren, I can’t. Your healing thingie[!] isn’t replacing your blood as fast as I’m draining it.” 'Healing thingie?!' Okay, seriously, this character could not have been a Mary Sue. There’s no way Chuck Austen would make his wife this stupid.

Wolverine once again tells Angel he needs to pull it and that they don’t need any more dead today. Jubilee suddenly asks who died in a weak voice, shocking the others. Wolverine goes down and grumbles to her that she had just died. Jubilee, in a bit of ‘humor,’ responds, “Dude. You ever hear the words “Mouth. Wash?”” Ever hear the words ‘Fashion. Disaster,’ Jubilee? But I kid Jubilee. I actually don’t hate her outfit that much, since it’s fairly original, it’s just that she needs a serious power upgrade other than simply shooting fireworks from her hands.

Back in the War Room (which is now tilted at odd angles for some reason), Cyclops wonders why the Church of Humanity, in its previous encounters, at first didn’t want to fight with the team but then began engaging them in combat. When asking what changed between the circumstances about Nightcrawler specifically (huh?!), Nightcrawler says that the “only major thing is that I renounced my priesthood...” Havok is shocked to discover that he was a Priest and Nightcrawler wonders why it’s so hard to believe. “Well, no offense, but look at you, pal. How would that work? Are you talking about being a priest to mutants?” Nice work paving the way for a peaceful future between mutants and humans, Havok. Real smooth. Iceman’s more surprised by the idea that he finally became a Priest and is confused about why the X-Men weren’t invited to the ceremony. Nightcrawler says they were invited and that they all attended. The group all stares at him in disbelief.

Back in the Infirmary, most of the others who had been dead are getting up, possibly indicating the shortest time for the Revolving Door of Death to turn (a single issue and 13 pages). However, all is not well, as Angelo is still dead. However, on the last panel of the page, you can see his eye partly open, which made me think at first that they were going to do a ‘humorous’ thing of him getting up then and laughing at the others, but alas, there is nothing but somberness. For some reason we have a single panel of Nightcrawler holding his head as Havok asks him what the Church could gain by making him think he was a Priest, with Nightcrawler answering that he doesn’t know. The scene switches to St. Michael’s Church in Brooklyn and from the looks of the page, the X-Men landed the Blackbird right in the middle of the flippin’ street. Word to the wise – just because your plane is a stealth plane doesn’t mean people can’t still walk into it, especially if it’s not cloaked or camouflaged in any way!

Nightcrawler explains that this is the place where he thought he was doing his priestly duties under a man named Father Whitney. It was also where he remembers his ordination ceremony took place. The others confirm that they don’t recall ever being here and Jean informs us that “there is some psychic residue of someone tampering with your mind, Kurt.” Oh, gee, THANKS, Jean, for telling us this rather useful bit of information NOW! Honestly, would it have been that difficult to clue Nightcrawler into the fact that it was likely his brain was getting screwed around with? Following the incident with you practically yelling at Annie about the telepathy, I can only assume that flaming bird in you must have laid an egg on your brain, jeez...

Nightcrawler states, “In a way, I’m almost relieved to hear you say that, Jean. I’d begun to question Father Whitney recently, in spite of his warmth and friendship toward me. It’s funny how kindness is often more truly just a pleasant act of selfishness, isn’t it?” Wow. Real deep, Kurt. Ladies and gentlemen, there you have the reason why so many superheroes were assholes during the Dark Age of comics: kindness = selfishness. Oh, and he also narrates another Bible quote, this time actually saying that it’s Proverbs 26:23. Why this one and not any of the previous ones? I refer thee to the book of Lewis, chapter 7, verse 3: poor writing and/or poor editing.

Cyclops, in a strategic maneuver worthy of Patton or Napoleon, tells Wolverine to cover their backside and for Polaris to go in from the back. Let’s see: guy who can regenerate from any injury and girl who can control metal (like, you know, the stuff that tends to be in a lot of churches) cool their heels while a group that isn’t exactly indestructible goes head-first into an unknown area with the potential of multiple engagements against forces that can tamper psychically with your brain. Remind me again why Cyclops is the leader? Oh yeah, he has to make those “unpopular, but necessary” moves that nobody else likes to do. Maybe they’re so unpopular because they’re downright stupid?

In any case, the group enters and finds the Church empty. Nightcrawler believes that he was indeed at the Church since he knew people saw him leave the mansion and that he never made a secret of the fact that he was training to be a Priest. Havok, once again demonstrating how Xavier’s lessons of tolerance and sensitivity are not wasted, says “But how, Kurt? I mean, come on. Look at you. You’re a devil in a house of God.” No, he’s a mutant in a house of God who somewhat resembles a demon. Sorry, you’re confusing him with Blue Devil. Wrong company, but an easy mistake to make.

After a smattering of irrelevant dialogue that reveals that Havok knows the book of Revelations (undoubtedly as foreshadowing for the second part of this book), Jean indicates that there’s blood on the floor. She even identifies it as mutant blood. And before I can make the joke about how in the heck she knew it was mutant blood, someone asks her that question. She indicates that she cal tell a lot of things about the place that they’re not going to like and instructs them all to stand back.

Jean suddenly has her Phoenix bird thing come out of her and wreck up the floorboards beneath them as Nightcrawler’s narration, for one last time, recites a Bible quote (sans explaining where the quote came from this time), with this one making even less sense than before as it references God making humanity in his own image and that they should fill the earth and subdue it. And the ‘shocking’ reveal at the end? We have the “and subdue it” end of the quote and then a double-page spread of a laboratory beneath the floorboards, where dozens of dead mutants are in various positions, be they in tubes, on beds, in wheelchairs[??], or shackled to walls. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you need to check every square inch of the house you want to buy before purchase.

The final panel is a confusing shot of a blue entity, supposedly still alive, with a tube going into its nose while its eyes are wide open. GASP! How will the X-Men survive this terrifying encounter with dead bodies?! Will Cyclops continue to be a moronic asshole to his teammates?! Will Nightcrawler act like a rookie when we know he’s been on the team for years?! Will Polaris actually get to say a line?! Will Nurse Annie read a medical textbook and learn that ‘thingie’ is not something a licensed caregiver should be saying?! Wow, isn’t it all just uncanny?!

Well, tune in for whenever I get a copy of Uncanny X-Men #424! In the meantime, I think YouTube has got some of the old X-Men animated series up.
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Saturday, March 3, 2007

Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes #1

Kind of self-explanatory, isn't it?

The title really says it all, doesn’t it?

Oh, but it gets sooo much better, folks. Solson Publications is a now-out of business comics company in the ‘80s that had such stellar titles as Codename: Assassin, Reagan’s Raiders (a comic, of all things, featuring our former president as part of a commando superhero team), Daffy Qadaffi, other various titles, and of course the subject of today’s burning. And while certainly members of the team just for this book are worthy of scorn, the former President of Solson comics, Gary Brodsky, deserves the most.

He is scum.

He is John Norman level of scum. He is the-oppressive-laws-against-women-in-Saudi Arabia-level scum. While it would be one thing to simply approve of this book (cheesecake for the sake of cheesecake exists even in Marvel), but what is the good Mr. Brodsky up to these days? Here is a selection of book titles from his site: How to dominate women, The Castration of the American Male, Dogs are like men, Cats are like women, How to use Black Magic to get women, Get any Woman to do Anything... Are we seeing a pattern here? The man is a misogynistic pile of crap and I don’t feel any shame in calling him that. I’m not going to link to his site, since I sure as hell don’t want people to give this bastard any more attention than my spittle and rage.

There are tenets of feminist philosophy (I’m disassociating with feminism itself here, since the definition of feminism is simply thinking that men and women should be treated equally) that I do not agree with, but man-oh-man it’s comics and individuals like this and him that make me want to.

Moving on away from the scumbag, I’m sad to say I don’t know much about the other individuals involved in this tripe. From what I’ve read, much like Greg Land of today, artist and creator of Sultry Teenage Super Foxes (hereafter to be referred to as STSF) Rich Buckler has a history of tracing behind him, but it’s lesser-known than more recent ones and from what I can tell from the limited research I’ve done, it wasn’t an extensive and common practice for him. Currently he’s doing surreal paintings and selling them from his site. The credits say that the script was by David George, but I can find no proof of this person’s existence so I’ll have to assume it’s a pen name for one of the other individuals involved in this fine work.

The other artist I can find very little about either is Chuck Wojkiewicz, albeit it seems that he has worked for DC before. Scott Nickel is still around, though, and apparently once joked about making a modern version of STSF or even Reagan’s Raiders using the current Republican President.

As for Solson comics itself, it was born out of the late ‘80s in the desire to mimic the success that black-and-white publishers had been having in the recently-budding direct-sales market. As such, this will also be the site’s first black and white comic.

And here we have the cover to Supreme Power #6- erm, I mean to our subject today (although that issue has a strikingly similar cover to this...). Unsurprisingly for the title, we have our heroines all wearing bathing suits of some sort. The woman in blue’s outfit, while looking nice stylistically, is still swim-wear if ever I saw it and does have the problem of really, REALLY huge boots. To make matters more confusing, one heroine isn’t even looking out at us like a group shot should, instead waving towards a jet that is, for some reason, on the cover. The woman in yellow has a boob window, of course, and the woman in green is... hell, I don’t know WHAT to call that outfit. It’s not helping that I can see her nipples poking through, but needless to say I’m just shaking my head here.

And before anyone cries out that these kind of outfits, “distract the enemy,” allow me to point out the fact that any villain worth his money isn’t going to give a rat’s ass if they’re in body armor, much less these outfits – they’re going to be running like hell and shooting back at whoever’s pursuing them because they don’t want to get CAUGHT. They’ll shoot at a superhero whether she’s starkers or fully-covered because they know what’ll happen if they don’t.

We open our story to an Air Force base where four women are waving goodbye to a group of pilots in their jets. The narration captions begin: “July. It means summer heat and clear blue skies here at Rutgers Air Force Base.” Really? I thought it meant giving, not stealing. “To Jasmine, Sheena, Amelia and Candy it means vacation - away from boarding school... and here on base, where their fathers work year round for Uncle Sam. Oh! It also means pilot watching.” Wait, their fathers work as pilots and these girls watch them? If it’s in a ‘oh-my-god-they’re-hot’ fashion, then eew. If any other fashion... well, sorry but that just sounds boring as hell. At least Hal Jordan’s group has interesting crap happen, like the occasional spaceship crashing into them. The narrator continues: “July is spent gazing dreamily at the cream of American manhood.” Okay, don’t EVER say ‘cream’ or ‘manhood’ again, okay? Ugh, I can just feel the oily touch of Gary Brodsky on this crap even if he didn’t write it.

“Today, alas, the girls are watching the pilots leave base on a five day mission. Five days is a long time in July – with no pilots around especially!” Yeah, I can remember back when I was a kid and I just kicked myself in July because there were no pilots around to watch. I mean, what’s not to like, eh? Mid-air refueling, sonic booms that shatter your eardrums... On that subject, five days on a single mission DOES seem like an awful long time to be away. Are they planning on staying up there the whole time or will they actually be stopping at other air force bases?

And already we see the real flaw behind black and white books – while stylistically they can work for something like Maus or something with a hint of color like AntiBunny, in a superhero book (intended mostly for action), it can get really difficult to keep track of which characters are which judging primarily on the hair style.

In any case, Amelia sighs and proclaims she misses one of the guy’s already. Jasmine rolls her eyes at her and says, “That is so high school! And you look like someone just shot your poodle! Play hard to get – for a change.” Nothing like being independent and not requiring a relationship, eh? “I thought we were in high school, Jasmine.” Ah, yes, nothing says high school quite like women who look like they’re in their mid-twenties. Two of the women wave at some mechanics nearby and Jasmine is unimpressed. “And just look at you two! Waving at mere mechanics! My God, they’re enlisted men!” GASP! Oh my God, what’ll the girls in baking class think?!

Jasmine proclaims that she’ll settle for no less than “An officer! A pilot!” Much like the narrator of Thunderstrike, Jasmine seems to have a problem with sentence fragments. One of the mechanics leers at the women and asks how a guy is supposed to work when the women are so distracting. Oh, I don’t know, perhaps by focusing on the task at hand instead of thinking with your other head? An MP stops the women, proclaiming them to be in a restricted area. As they turn to leave, the women wave to the mechanics, one of whom stupidly smacks his buddy across the back of the head as he turns.

The women manage to sneak away from the MP into a hangar and Candy is surprised by a jet that’s covered in tarps (USELESS FORESHADOWING!). The others drag her back along so they can escape and Sheena leads them along like a general. Speaking of which, when they get out of the hangar, somehow her father (a General at the base), is suddenly standing right behind her in a car that anyone could’ve seen coming a mile away. The others remark ‘humorously’: “Yowsa! Yowsa!”[??] “Ha-Ha! Sheena, you sound just like your father!” “Yeah, Sheena, and umm... Speaking of your father...” The narrator informs us quite casually, “Oh, well. Looks like they’re out of the frying pan...” Oh, those crazy wimmins – what sorta trouble will they get into next! Hahahaha- someone please kill me.

Sheena’s father reads her the riot act while the other women snicker. When he’s finished, Sheena makes a ‘sad puppy-eyes’ face at him and says, “I’m awful sorry, daddy. I was just showing the girls around. I didn’t want to be any trouble...” Yes, ladies, when men aren’t lusting after you, you should use your soft, submissive faces to try to calm those raging guys down! What’s particularly stupid about this panel is that the word balloon she’s using is dripping down like she was saying something scary, so any effect for ‘cute’ they were trying to go for is lost. The General isn’t buying her sad face, but instead of rightfully carting the women down to a less-restricted zone and punished for trespassing, he instructs her to guide his new aide, Barry, around the base. Barry is a dorky guy with glasses whose first panel appearance has him bonking his head against a car roof. The women all think about what a nerd or geek he looks like, except for one who has the image of a number two pencil for the guy’s head, which I presume is the artist’s way of drawing ‘pencil-neck,’ even though it would’ve just been simpler to write the words out.

The narrator informs us in a new establishing shot that the unimpressive building before them is, “The Air Force Advanced Aerial Combat Training Center – the most advanced facility of its kind on Earth! “C.T.C.” for short.” Um... shouldn’t that be AFAACTC if that was really its full name? Barry says he’d better get used to living in the area since he’s working on Project Valkyrie. When they ask him about it, Barry informs them on what Project Valkyrie is: “It’s a plan to give women advanced aerial training – in case the country should ever need female pilots.” Well, that makes sense, I suppose, given that-

Wait, WHAT THE FUCK?! I have made it my deliberate goal to ensure I don’t swear a lot in these reviews, but seriously, that statement deserves a complete Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot. There already are female pilots, you jackasses! And what the hell is it about women that prevents them from being perfectly acceptable as pilots in cases other than emergencies?! I’m sure Grace Trout, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Lilya Litvyak, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton can rest easy knowing how much their work is appreciated today.

Admittedly (after doing a little research), while there were female air force pilots at the time this comic was made, female aviators were not allowed to fly in actual combat. They did anyway (and participated in Panama, Grenada, and Desert Storm), but combat records excluded them. In 1993, this law was repealed and women were rightfully allowed to fly combat missions. However, the wording of the dialogue above makes it sound like there aren’t any female pilots at all and that they’d only need them in an emergency!

As Barry is shown around the building (and I must ask why civilians are showing him around), one of the women reveals for no explicable reason that Jasmine’s got a photographic memory (USEFUL FORESHADOWING!). The women play around with him, taking his I.D. badge and clip it to the back of his jacket. They get away by proclaiming, “Oh, gee! Look at the time! We gotta go and, uh... do our homework!” Barry protests that it’s July and Candy responds, “Well, we’re sorta(sic) slow. We need a real heard-start!” Tee-hee! It’s like they’re smart but they’re not! Tee-hee! ...somebody PLEASE KILL ME. Barry takes off his glasses and, shockingly, he’s a dead ringer for the recently-deceased Maxwell Lord from DC comics.

Cut to “New Orleans, Louisiana. July 14.” My name’s Friday – I’m a cop. The narrator pipes in about the sweltering heat of the city and that some sections have less tourist attractions than others, showing a street that features signs like, “Topless & Bottomless,” (A rather fitting description of this comic...) “French Style Entertainment,” (Jerry Lewis? This IS a backwater place...) and “Discoteque(sic) Upstairs.” Wow, who knew Discotheques were such a hotbed of drugs and prostitution? We switch to a sign that reads “Madame Rotunda (oh, that’s subtle)” and inside there’s a woman with the standard trappings of a palm reader’s house – crystal balls, candles on skulls, and incense. Madame Rotunda herself is practicing magic while wearing a ridiculous skull helmet on her head.

And it seems my sentiments are the same as her’s, because as we flip the page she thinks, “This ridiculous headdress is about to kill me! And the heat! None of this is working... I should- No! I mustn’t! I must not give up! For the sake of my baby, my sweet Audrey, I must not give up!” The narrator exposits that Rotunda’s daughter died two years ago and now she’s seeking a way to summon the dead. She finally managed to “pierce the veil” and her spirit rises to... well, I’m really not sure. Another problem of black and white comics is that it’s hard to tell what it is we’re looking at in more detailed settings. What I can see is a weird building with a cross-symbol at its top and a bonfire going on in a lake. Rotunda realizes that something has gone wrong and something explodes out of the building. It appears in the visage of a flaming skull as the narrator explains, “The freed thing bridges the intervening gulfs of inner and outer space[??], following the silver thread of Madame’s Spirit... to New Orleans. To Madame (is her first name Madame or something?). Home.” And for some reason that just baffles the mind, the narrator then asks, “Mommy, it followed me home. Can I keep it? [?!?!]”

As Rotunda tries to fight the demon in her head, the demon proclaims that it can give her anything she wants, including vengeance. After she agrees to this, Rotunda transforms into a skinny, hawt version of herself with odd barbed boots, arm warmers, bra, and panties. Oh, and the panties have a cape running down the backside ala the Princess Leia gold bikini. Since she had to take off her robes in order to reveal this ensemble, I can only presume she was wearing this outfit before she was attacked by the demon, so eeewww on so many levels. To add to this wonderful imagery of turning a woman into a sex object is this wonderfully subtle dialogue from the narrator: “The invader wins dominance. Free at last, after so long. Let the universe tremble again.”

Cut back to the Air Force base. The narrator informs us that this is the lab of Dr. Francis Hobble and where the General and Barry are now wanting to see a demonstration of his work. The sample that they’re using is- ugh. It’s four ounces of dog feces. Folks, I don’t know what is more disgusting – the sexism or the attempts at humor. The doctor gives them goggles (“The goggles, they do nothing!” joke in 5...4...3...) and the narrator informs us, “Switches are thrown... and beams of dazzling brilliance lance down onto the sample...” I was unaware that dazzling brilliance had been harnessed into an energy form. “...Bathing it in Eldritch fire[??]... Altering it at the fundamental level!”

Barry is shocked to discover that the dog feces have become gold[!!!]! Barry speculates that it must require lots of power, to which Dr. Hobble affirms, “When we operate the device, every light is dimmed by the power drain[!!!]!” WHAT?! An alchemy device, something that alters dog turds into friggin’ gold, something that changes the atomic structure of one completely different item into another only drains enough power to dim some lights?!?! It gets better, folks.

We get a cost breakdown for the machine, that the apparatus itself cost “millions” and that converting the sample cost around $65,000. “It’s not a cost-effective source for gold, of course, but the theoretical ramifications are enormous!” Not cost-effective?! Once you HAVE the machine, getting the back pay for it is simple once you make gold of equal value! And where does the cost of actually converting the material come from?! Is it the power drain?! Now, I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that if you hooked it up something that produced an awful lot of energy, say a nuclear power planet or a geothermal plant, the power cost would be minimal at best! Now, there is an economics problem of making more gold and thereby flooding the market with it, but a device of this power has other uses.

Even if garbage itself is not a big issue in the United States thanks to the fact that landfills are plowed over and converted into methane power plants, wasteful material like feces, polluted water, or chemical byproducts of other industrial manufacturing could be converted into whatever materials you need at any moment and subsequently sold to anyone who needed them! And what does Barry have to say about such possibilities? “No way they’ll fund it this year[!!]. It’s just too theoretical[!!!].” Too theoretical?! They made friggin’ dog poop into GOLD!

Jasmine comes in, apparently the daughter of Dr. Hobble. He vents that his grant for the alchemy machine won’t get renewed. He talks about the possibilities of such a machine: “I mean, consider the transmutation of living tissue! Men into supermen! The power of creation could be in our grasp!” We could even turn a manwich into a meal! Oh, and by the way, that “power of creation” doesn’t make you sound megalomaniacal. Nope. Not one bit. Jasmine tries to reassure him that everything will work out while at the same time thinking, “This gives me an idea!” Why do I get the feeling this idea involves costumes that make no sense and sultry looks at readers?

Back in New Orleans, we have a full page of narration talking about homeless people that Rotunda (“Or whatever is now calling herself by that name” as the narrator says) is picking up the homeless and prostitutes to be possessed by other demons. Naturally, these new women are also wearing ‘80s bikerwear and supervillain outfits as Rotunda teaches them to read. One of them has a Bizarro moment as she proclaims, “It are simple! I are figure in wordglyphs already! Me is ready to go out!” Woman = dumb, apparently, otherwise why wouldn’t these demons already have knowledge of speech and reading like the spirit who possessed Madame Rotunda?

Rotunda sells all of her possessions in order to obtain all the materials she needs, including a computer (and making me sigh in nostalgia for the old days of Vic 20s and Commodore 64s. Ah, the good old days...) which she uses to gain access to Project Valkyrie. The password for project Valkyrie? Valhalla. You know, that ‘military intelligence’ oxymoron is looking more bleak every day...

Back at the Air Force base again, the women are sneaking around and go into a storage closet using Jasmine’s father’s I.D. card. Barry tries to follow them, but the door shuts and locks before he can reach it. Jasmine explains to the others about the transmutation device, and now I can only recognize three of the women because they’ve changed their hair styles. And the only one I can recognize is because she’s the only one with black hair. They identify themselves through their dialogue to one another and Amelia expresses concern about the prospect of using the device to transmute themselves into superbeings. Jasmine replies, “Oh, Amelia, don’t be such a wet blanket! This is my big chance to become a superior being, and you are not going to ruin it for me!” Jeez, I can’t tell if this is unintentional misogyny for implying that women need devices to make them into equals/superior to men or just Nazism for implying a superior being at all.

Sheena pipes up with this gem of wisdom: “It occurs to me, ladies, that a superior being would stand an awfully good chance of getting a date with a pilot!” Yes, because God forbid these unnamed pilots might want to date you for your personalities. Oh, wait, you don’t have any. You’re just dolls meant for the enjoyment of men who only care about scoring dates with me. I remember now. I’m serious, someone knock me out or something. Outside, Barry struggles to get the control panel for the door off so he can break in, rewiring it.

Jasmine explains that “Jack” (whoever the hell that might be) showed her how to use the device (FORESHADOWING JUSTIFIED!). Okay, that might explain how it’ll turn you into gold, but how in the heck do you know how to turn yourself into a superpowered being? The others pressure Amelia into getting onto the platform with them and one of them gives this bit of sage advice: “Come on, Amelia! Do you want to sleep alone for the rest of your life?” AGH, THE SEXISM! The goggles, they do nothing! See? Told you it was coming up.

Amelia thinks for a moment that it’s likely to toast them, but since they’re her friends, she’s got to stick by them (yeah, because it’s okay to give into peer pressure when it’s your friends). “Okay, I’m coming... but if this kills us, Jasmine, so help me, I’ll kill you!” Hahahaha, oh, my sides are splitting! Oh, wait, that’s actually my wrist. I’m trying to cut myself on the pages.

Barry manages to get in, but it’s too late. The device activates and all the electronic devices in the area start to short out and explode. The roof explodes and the four women ascend as Barry beholds a woman standing over them with yin-yang symbols all over her. Barry looks up in shock and thinks, “What was that thing I saw standing over it all? It looked like a woman, but... fifty feet tall!?” Quick, someone call Allison Hayes!

On the next page, we reveal the women in all of their new outfits (two of which sport huge boob windows, one a glorified bathing suit (as mentioned above), and the other with multiple holes going down the center). The narrator explains that, “The warm night breeze breathes its approval over them. They are gifted with a bond that reaches in and grasps their hearts. Tonight, they have been made into earth’s avatars.” Jeez, and now I want Aang to show up and slap the writers around for this trash...

The narrator continues: “The planet, from its core to the ozone – is alive, and it smiles on them, for it is theirs and they belong to it!” So, wait, the women belong to the Earth, or the Earth to the women? I’m confused. And hungry. The narrator explains the new powers of each of the women:

“Sheena is gifted with incredible strength, drawn from contact with the mother planet. While she touches the Earth, her blood and body sing with power!” As long as she’s not singing like Yani, I’ll be happy.

“Amelia is joined to the water. Joyfully, it comes to her call – eager to caress – or to strike!” Ah, sexy, sexy violence. Joy. “The waters of the world are hers to shape as she will. They cry out for her touch.” And I’m crying out for an end to this crap.

“Jasmine is now the bride of fire.” Because, you know, women can’t be independent, they have to be brides of something. “Her body is a channel for the power and heat locked inside the Earth. Sweltering, locked away from the seeks release through her!” Jeez, how many double entendres can they fit into a single comic?

“Candy rides the winds tonight. They wrap around her soaring form, at once like silks, like a powerful steed, like a lover’s touch (THREE sexual images in one sentence. I don’t drink, but man do I need a beer). From the frigid winds that whip around mountain peaks, to the slow smoke-laden air that roils through dimly lit city hollows to the air scirocco that rides the desert dunes... She knows them all now. They call to her: “Come. Ride. Soar.” She nods and smiles and promises: “Later.” Then she hastens back to the scene and her friends.” You know, suddenly a walking stick that turns a guy into Thor isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

Barry makes himself scarce as the women practice their new abilities, setting down to talk for a minute. And what do the ladies want to do with their newfound abilities, powers, and responsibilities the likes of which no person on Earth has ever seen before? Why, get men, of course. “I say we meet those hotshots tomorrow right as they land – then wham! Show our stuff!” You could’ve done that just by NOT getting superpowers and lifting your tops.

The next day, the General is understandably peeved about all the damage to the lab. And what does Barry have to say on the matter? “I had no idea that what we are doing would be of interest to saboteurs.” Guys, it’s a machine that can turn anything into something else. Did you really think that this wouldn’t be the least bit enticing to thieves, spies, terrorists, etc.?! The eponymous Jack mentioned earlier says that most of the damage was superficial and that nothing was wrecked permanently. Dr. Hobble worries that they won’t be able to repair any of the damage without funding, but Barry states that now that the Russians are interested in it, that they’ll get more funding. He does say that it’s unlikely that the Russians themselves did it (but that doesn’t prevent you from lying about it...) because they would’ve taken information and destroyed the lab more efficiently. Because Soviet operations in the late ‘80s were going soooo well.

Barry requests to be in charge of investigating and informs the General that Project Valkyrie will be landing shortly. Wait, I thought we only gave them womenfolk jobs in an emergency! The STSF wait outside as the pilots land, ready to reveal their new abilities, but then Project Valkyrie lands and the female pilots all leave the plane and, of course, immediately hook up with the male pilots, much to the chagrin of the STSF. The ladies all grumble about this development as Major Burns, the female commander of Project Valkyrie, reports for duty to the General. And had this been a porn comic, I’m sure we’d see a bulge coming from the General’s pants right now as he grins stupidly and says to her, “Welcome to Rutgers. And please, call me “Hal”!”

Ha-ha! Oh, men ogling women is funny! And women only talk about men when they’re in groups! Yeah, part of me is laughing – the part of me that likes to blow stuff up in first-person shooters. Anyway, that’s the end of the comic, with a blurb for next issue that raises these thought-provoking questions: “What are the sinister plans of Madame Rotunda? Who are the Vampires of Venus[??]? How can I join[???]? What will Candy, Jasmine, Amelia, and Sheena do?” And who are the Overlords of the UFO?!

And just to cap off the stupidity, there’s an ad on the next page for this very comic, with a picture of the jackass Gary Brodsky proclaiming, “From the comics company that dares to have a personality!” Yeah, and that personality is one that thinks women are objects to be owned and dominated and that their only thoughts are for getting dates.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some Buffy.

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